Senate debates

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Economics Legislation Committee; Proposed Reference of Carbon Polution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and Related Bills

11:38 am

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

In my brief remarks last night, if I recall correctly, I concluded by saying that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is not, in fact, an environmental bill. The government understands that. It knows the CPRS is going to have zero environmental impact; it is not going to reduce global warming, which has not, of course, occurred since 1995. Even the alarmist IPCC scientist Phil Jones has conceded that point. If we can only get Tony Jones to concede it, what great inroads will have been made. It is not an environmental bill; it is a tax bill. It is a $120 billion, 10-year tax grab by this government, who are desperate to prop up a Treasury bucket that is empty. There is a hole in the bucket. It is haemorrhaging money—taxpayers’ money wasted on so many programs—and this government is desperate to plug that hole by shoving more taxpayers’ cash into it.

I understand perfectly why the government does not want this suite of bills that will change forever the face of the Australian economy to go through any further scrutiny and why they do not want to refer the bills to a Senate committee that will examine their impact on the Australian economy and may even examine whether they will have any effect other than a negative one on the environment. Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, as the minister responsible for this abomination of bills, does not want the legislation to go through any further scrutiny.

Senator Wong is in absolute denial about what has changed from last year, when she was fuelling a pandemic about global warming, and what is happening in 2010. Last year, we did not know about the deceit and the fraud and the rent seeking and the nonsense that was coming out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which Senator Wong has hung so much of her ministerial star on.

What we do know is that the IPCC has been absolutely discredited by its own actions. To Senator Wong and others who are caught up in this entire catastrophe of trying to foist these bills on the Australian people, I relate an old proverb that says that a frog that lives in a well is not aware of the ocean. Senator Wong is the frog that is living not in a well but in a hole. She has dug a hole with the IPCC, and she needs to poke her head up above that hole and have a look around and see that there is a completely different landscape than the one she has been blinded by. The hole that has been dug by the IPCC is a grave for global warming. Almost every claim that they have made is becoming discredited.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Is it a well or a hole or a grave? You are sounding like Barnaby Joyce.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Evans interjects and wants to know about whether it is a well or a grave. Senator Evans, you can keep digging. Keep digging the hole or the grave or the well or whatever you want to describe it as for your government. You are discredited, and everyone knows it but you. Although there are those on your side who know it—not the leftists, but those with common sense.

This well, this hole, this grave for global warming that is being dug by the IPCC relates to the frauds that have gone on there. The IPCC have misled the public with their climate data, they have manufactured data, they have made outlandish claims that glaciers are going to disappear in 25 years and that the Amazon rainforest is going to disappear and that there are going to be massive droughts in Africa as a result of carbon dioxide being emitted into the air. We have discovered in 2010 and late 2009 that most of these outlandish claims, which were supported and taken to the bank of the taxpayer by the Labor government, were based on flimsy science, false science, dodgy science, student newspapers, WWF funding and claims in Greenpeace’ extremist publications.

It simply beggars belief that the government wants us to accept and adopt this suite of bills without scrutiny of what has come to light. It goes to the desire of Senator Wong and those of her ilk to see world socialism or some sort of evening body across all countries so that we can redistribute wealth to help those who are going to be affected. As I said last year, I do not know how redistributing wealth to corrupt regimes or compensating people for things that they have never had and never will have is going to save the environment. The people who are advocates for this approach are mostly rent seekers who are reliant on the largess of this redistribution of wealth—hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into dodgy environmental programs. The head of the IPCC’s own institute is benefiting. I understand that our government has sent the IPCC $1 million to further these outlandish claims. By the way, that institute, TERI, far from being a bastion of environmental greatness, is, I think, now building golf courses—those things that require lots of water—in India and nine-hole golf courses on public land. That seems a good use of environmental money!

Anyway, I digress. There are a bunch of rent-seekers involved in this, and we need to identify that. We need to make sure the Australian public truly understand that what the government is trying to sell them is not what the environment needs and is not justified by the actual, credible science that has come in. It is justified by the discredited science that the government chooses to use. But, in doing so, we are subject to all sorts of abuse and personal attacks. They say, ‘Al Gore must be right because he won a Nobel Prize.’ If there were a Nobel Prize for fiction, Al Gore would deserve it, he really would—but not for science, not for a peace prize and not for drawing the attention of the Australian people to problems with global warming. This is nonsense. It is rent-seeking. It is further grandiosity by an elite who wants to tell the Australian people and the rest of the world how we should be running our lives—and it has been rejected, again and again. You would think a government that really considered what was in the best interests of the Australian people, what was in the interests of our industry, what was in the interests of our families, would actually say, ‘Hey, we got this wrong; let’s take some direct action on it rather than create a massive bureaucracy’. There are 150-or-so people administering something that does not yet exist. It is quite extraordinary. Do you want to know why they want to pursue that? There are 150 people there who are zealots, advocating for something that is unnecessary and ineffective.

This is a range of inconvenient truths for those who are watermelons: they are green on the outside—we know that—and they are Marxist red on the inside. These are the people who are trying so hard to re-engineer our economy and to put themselves at the very epicentre of it. It is an inconvenient truth. I say to the emperor and the empress of the ETS: what has happened with the IPCC has shown that you have no clothes. And the Australian people know that; they know it—it is not just one small boy, one man or one scientist. The Australian people are waking up to the fact that the emperor and the empress of the ETS have no clothes—and it is not a pretty sight. They continue to come in here and say, ‘We’ve got to take action to save the world.’ Well, the rest of the world is not taking action.

I hear all the time, from Senator Wong and others, that there are 30 or 35 countries that have an ETS. What they do not disclose is that all bar one of those countries is associated with the European Union trading scheme. And what they will not tell you about the European Union trading scheme is that an estimated 80 to 90 per cent of the trades that take place on their carbon exchange are based on frauds. It is pass the parcel: everyone wins a prize and gets a government grant along the way, until some bogus company at the end has all the liability and shuts itself down. This is happening again and again. It has had no impact on carbon dioxide emissions in Europe. It has had no impact on stopping global warming, which they have conveniently ignored now and call ‘climate change’. It has had no impact on stopping cyclones or extreme weather events, or any of these things that they attribute to climate change—which, once again, have been debunked as myths—yet they want to impose it on the Australian people.

If they want to impose this on the Australian people, why will they not allow it to be scrutinised? Why will this government not allow us to examine the data that they have relied on? Or to examine the modelling, and the implications for the Australian economy? What do they have to hide? Clearly, they have a great deal to hide. Their modelling last year—they would not release a lot of it—assumed that all other countries in the Western world, or the major emitters at the very least, were going to introduce an emissions trading scheme of their own. This refers to China, the United States, India—and yet none of them are going to introduce and emissions trading scheme. It is all on the backburner. They have realised the folly of their ways—that this is an imposition on industry, it is an imposition on human progress and it will make no difference to the climate. All have woken up to that falsehood, except the 1950s Stalinist regime that is running this country now, that wants to put the Australian government at the very epicentre of the economy and redistribute the wealth—take from those who produce and give to those they deem worthy. There are laudable aims in government, in making sure that people have opportunities, but you do not give people opportunities by shutting down industry and denying them a job. That is exactly the consequences of this ridiculous legislation that they call the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

I know that Senator Wong has this like an albatross around her neck. We heard about dead cats hanging around people’s necks yesterday. Well, we have a stinking albatross hanging around Senator Wong’s neck on this. I know that she is desperately hoping for a reshuffle so she can ditch this poisoned chalice of a portfolio, and perhaps give it to one of her factional rivals—Senator Arbib would probably be good for this one, because he is in bad-land as well at the moment. What we have is a policy that is entirely friendless. Last year’s friends, from industry groups and other organisations that were supporting this government because they thought these bills were going to get through, have suddenly turned on them and have distanced themselves from them. They have said, ‘No, we really don’t want this legislation.’ Everyone is walking away from it except Senator Wong, the emperor and the Labor Party. This is where the Australian people are being dudded. Last year, if you recall, Mr Acting Deputy President, how to address climate change was the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’. And yet, for some strange reason they will not allow the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ to be examined in a prudent and appropriate manner, so that their bills and their legislation are truly accountable to the Australian people.

Why? We keep coming back to that question—what have they got to hide? We have seen this government’s cover-ups. We have seen that they do not want to be accountable for the mistakes they have made. But one of the hallmarks of great leaders, of good governance, is that when they get it wrong they say, ‘Look, we got it wrong,’ and they shut down ridiculous and silly programs. Let’s take one example, and I will give credit to this government. After wasting some $20 million or $30 million of taxpayers’ money on their GROCERYchoice website, they walked away from it. It is awful that it cost nearly a million dollars a week for the seven months or so of development, but at least they walked away from it rather than continuing to pile many more millions of dollars into it.

But how many jobs are they prepared to sacrifice on their green altar? How many industries are they prepared to send over to China, India or somewhere else in the world? How many people are they prepared to put out of work, to disadvantage? How many businesses are they prepared to close down to pursue an extremist, nonsensical, unaccountable and inefficient climate change agenda? There is something really wrong with this.

Senator Wong maintained yesterday, if I recall correctly, that there have been 15 different inquiries into the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. That may be right, but things have changed. Things have changed since we saw that disaster that was Copenhagen, where every radical green group got together to have a love-in and say, ‘We can change the world.’ They cannot change the world because they were all exposed as not having a legitimate claim or justification for what they wanted to implement. It turned to custard. Yet our Prime Minister, Senator Wong and others wanted us to go there with one of only two emissions trading schemes outside of the European Union.

The other country outside of the European Union that has introduced an emissions trading scheme is New Zealand. The scheme was introduced by a Labor government there and, finally, when a new government was elected, they started to roll back some of the outrageous impositions on their economy. We were going to be the second one. We have a much larger economy than New Zealand. We would be the major country outside of the European Union to implement a trading scheme. It has not done the European Union any favours. It has not done the world any favours. Yet Mr Rudd wanted us to introduce it here and disadvantage ourselves ahead of all our competitors.

It is a bad policy. We know that. We know the science has moved on. We know that the Australian public no longer want it; they want direct action on climate change. We should put this CPRS to bed forever and a day. But the government will not. So we hope that, by referring it to a committee, which Greens, coalition and Labor senators can be on, we can find a general consensus that is in the best interests of the world and of Australia. That committee would examine the implications of what Labor proposes. I believe it would discredit it instantly and, hopefully, Labor would come to their senses and save the Australian people from the nonsense that they want to impose.

11:56 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I indicate that I will not be supporting this motion. I would like to outline my reasons for doing so. I think, as a general principle, that the Senate ought to inquire into important pieces of legislation and that it ought to do so through the committee process. But let us put this in perspective. What has happened here. This bill has already been debated in this chamber—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

and I am waiting for the interjections of Senator Bernardi. I must say, Senator Bernardi, you perhaps overreached when you accused this government of being Stalinist. The last time I checked, this government does not have any gulags—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Did you listen to Kim Carr yesterday, mate?

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Xenophon, you have the call—

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I was just making the comment that I thought that some people might find comparing this government to Stalinists overreaching—colourful but overreaching!

This is a very important issue. The question before us is not whether this is a good or bad piece of legislation. I happen to be in the camp that says that this is a bad piece of legislation—I have already outlined why during the debate—and I am relieved that the legislation was defeated at the end of last year. But the debate on the merits or otherwise of the legislation should occur at another time during the second reading stage, the committee stage, of this bill. The fact is that there have been two extensive Senate inquiries on these bills and on the issue of climate policy generally. I sat on both of those inquiries for many, many hours. They were useful inquiries. Reports were produced. The Greens produced a minority report, as did I, outlining alternatives.

A few things have changed. Firstly, the leadership of the Liberal Party has changed. And last year a deal was done between Mr Turnbull and the government, and history shows what occurred with that particular deal. But let us put this in perspective. The bill that is before us is substantially the same as the bill that was put before this parliament previously and debated extensively at an exhaustive committee stage. Many amendments were put up by the coalition, the Greens, me and, I think, Senator Fielding—I am not sure of that, but he certainly played an active role in that debate—and were debated. We went through an exhaustive committee stage where these issues were ventilated.

Whilst there is a difference between the compensation package that was negotiated by Mr Turnbull and Mr Macfarlane with the government and the provisions of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010, the architecture of the scheme is fundamentally the same. I say again that I consider this scheme to be fundamentally flawed in its current form, that I do not believe it will deliver the requisite cuts to emissions to make a difference and for Australia to have a real leadership role in the region and also that it comes at a very heavy economic cost. So I cannot support these amendments.

In looking at where we go now and whether we agree to this bill being referred to a committee, it is fair to say that these bills have been exhaustively dealt with by the Senate and its committees. The only difference between the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and the present one is in the additional levels of compensation—some would say, ‘tinkering around the edges’—offered by what remains a fundamentally flawed scheme. I think that the deal that was struck last year, and I say this with due respect to Mr Turnbull and Mr Macfarlane, made a bad scheme even worse, and the architecture is still the same.

We will have an opportunity for a committee stage to exhaustively go through these bills again if that is what the Senate decides to do, but I cannot in good conscience see the benefit of having another inquiry when we have already had two exhaustive inquiries into this process. That is my fundamental difficulty. In a sense, I do not agree with the process that the opposition has sought to pursue in opposing this bill, but I do think that these bills are so flawed that the government needs to go back to the drawing board. That, to me, is the key issue here.

Given that the architecture is effectively the same and that we have dealt with these extensively in two Senate committees, I cannot in good conscience support this proposal for referral to a committee. I say this, however, in the belief that the debate is finely balanced; it is not a black-and-white issue. But I believe it is not appropriate for these bills to be referred to a committee given the history of the matter’s having been extensively canvassed in two Senate committees.

Frontier Economics, which has been advising me and which for some time advised the coalition, did provide papers which I tabled in relation to the amendments to this bill that were proposed. But, again, the architecture is the same, and I do not think there is any point in going further with this motion for the bill to go to a committee. We should just get on with this bill, and I hope that the Senate will again vote it down because, given its current structure, it will have a negative impact on Australia’s economy and a negligible impact on the environment.

12:02 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to say that the Greens will not be supporting this inquiry into the legislation either. I am surprised that the coalition now wants to have this inquiry, because the proposed changes to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 were agreed to by Mr Macfarlane with Minister Wong and the government last year. They were agreed. They went to the coalition party room and the coalition party room agreed with them. They were fully explained to the coalition party room at that time and there was support for them until there was a change of leadership—

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

No, there wasn’t.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

in which case the coalition decided that it was not going to support the changes. Those changes were negotiated by the coalition with the government. So if Senate Abetz does not understand them now then it demonstrates that he was going to vote for something he did not understand, which is a reflection on how he deals with legislation.

The fact of the matter is that the changes that were negotiated by the then shadow minister for resources and energy, Mr Macfarlane, with Minister Wong made the legislation even more flawed than it had been previously. As we know, it was the coalition that insisted on an increase in the compensation to the coal fired generators, which went up from some 25 per cent to 75 per cent as a result of the coalition’s changes. There were many other changes, and some of them were just ridiculous in the sense that the compensation for the emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries went on for 10 years. There were all sorts of unjustified changes, and I come back to the fact that there is no economist anywhere who believes that there is economic justification for the compensation levels that were agreed to with the coal fired sector. As Professor Garnaut said recently, they are an ‘abomination’ in terms of public policy.

That is one of the reasons why the Greens do not support this legislation in its current form. We do not support the government’s low targets in the legislation agreed to by the coalition. They are very well argued and canvassed. They have been to numerous inquiries. The 5 per cent to 25 per cent target range is one of the reasons why Copenhagen failed, because the developing world pointed out, quite rightly, that the level of ambition from developed countries like Australia was not high enough. In the Copenhagen Accord, which is now on the table and was in part Australia’s construct, there was a deadline of 31 January for countries to sign on with obligations. That is now a soft deadline. Even people who agreed with the Copenhagen Accord now seem to be pulling out of it, and there is no certainty about where that is going to go. Indeed, with the recent resignation of Yvo de Boer from the UNFCCC, it is very hard to see where and what progress is going to be made globally in the next 12 months coming into Mexico, let alone after Mexico.

The Greens have said all along that the government’s legislation was flawed. It became even more flawed after the deal with Mr Macfarlane, and it is our view that it is unsupportable. It is unsupportable because its targets are too weak and because it locks in failure. It locks in those weak targets and the lack of transformation in the Australian economy into the future. It locks in the fact that Australia’s energy sector is not going to reduce its emissions until 2034, if ever, because the target of 2034 is based on an assumption that carbon capture and storage will be in place by then, and the reality is that it is hardly likely to be. So Australia’s energy emissions would go up while we were supposedly reducing our emissions by importing permits from overseas. But we ought to be reducing our emissions at home.

There are many reasons why the legislation is flawed, but, fundamentally, it does not drive the transformation to the low-carbon economy, to renewables and away from the old fossil fuel sector. It does not do it in many areas and it does not meet the scientific imperative in terms of the targets. That is clear to everybody. You take one position or another in relation to this. We do not need another inquiry to go over this ground over and over again. The ground has been clearly debated. I think the minister said in her contribution to this debate that there had been 15 inquiries. I have not actually counted them, but I think she is probably correct—at the least there have been very many Senate inquiries by various committees. All these aspects have been looked at and, more particularly, the coalition seemed satisfied with the arrangements it made and seemed to understand the changes it made to the bill as a result of the government’s discussions with Mr Macfarlane. Suffice to say, we will not be supporting this motion or the amendment proposed by Family First. I do not think we need the Productivity Commission to come back with yet another model in the scheme of things or, indeed, that it would be able to complete that in the time frame we are talking about.

The Greens have said that our fundamental problem with the legislation is the targets. They are too low and the reduction in emissions is dependent on the import of overseas permits. We want to see transformation of the Australian economy and that is why we have put an interim measure on the table to defer the issue of targets until the international scenario is clearer. Let us adopt an interim carbon price so that we actually put a price signal in for the longer term, and then wait to see what the target should be when it becomes clearer internationally. But we do need a price signal in the economy in order to start driving the transformation. The advantage of what we have put on the table about an interim measure is that it gives certainty for the long term that there will be a carbon price. It is a hybrid measure whereby we can put the price in via the architecture of an emissions trading scheme so that the architecture is in place. When we agree on targets as a result of the international scheme becoming clearer, then we can push the button and transfer from an interim carbon price set in this way to trading. You would be able to make a relatively seamless transition if you have the architecture in place to do so.

We have also recognised that, by putting in place an interim carbon price now in the absence of international trading, you do not import permits from overseas, so the transformation would have to occur in Australian industry. It is absolutely critical to the Greens that the transformation begins here at home and is not dependent on the import of foreign permits. That is a critical issue; the targets are a critical issue. Our proposition avoids having to deal with the target issue until it becomes clearer into the future and it overcomes the difficulty we have at the moment of a lack of a clear price signal—and people cannot make investments in the absence of a clear price signal.

For people who say that the renewable energy target issue—the wind farms et cetera—would be fixed if we had the emissions trading scheme in place, that is clearly not the case. The industry itself will says that it would not make an iota of difference. You actually need to fix the renewable energy target flaws in order to drive the kind of transformation we are talking about. Let us not hear any more nonsense that we do not need to fix the renewable energy targets because if the CPRS were passed it would overcome the problems for wind farms. That is simply not the case. The government cannot continue to arrogantly state that the renewable energy target is fine and not flawed and so on—it is flawed. People are losing their jobs as we speak, for instance in Tasmania at the Musselroe wind farm. There was an announcement in South Australia of no new wind farms until the RET is fixed and an announcement in Victoria at Portland that people will be losing their jobs by the end of the month. They have been on enforced leave for the last couple of weeks and, if this matter is not resolved by the end of the month, those people will be facing redundancy.

Come on now. This is an opportunity for the government to admit that what I said in the debate on the renewable energy target and what the industry said at the time has come to pass. Although the government pretended that they got it right, their modelling was wrong. The criticism made at the time has come to pass and it needs to be fixed. I plead with the government to fix this problem as quickly as possible because it is an issue concerning the transformation to renewable energy, and that is a critical strategic issue for Australia into the future. But at the moment this is about jobs. This is about livelihoods in rural and regional Australia, and you cannot just keep saying it is not happening—because it is happening. Profit results and industry results will be out this week saying that there will be no further investment. What a tragedy that is when it is simply a matter of a minister and a government just admitting that they got it wrong and that they will move to fix it. They said they got it wrong on insulation—that was obvious to all and sundry—and are now moving to fix it. I am not confident that the fix that is in place will be enough, but at least it is a start. They need to admit they got the Green Loans Program wrong and move to fix it. And now they need to admit they got the renewable energy target wrong and move to fix that. But, in the absence of that, we are going to see people unemployed by the end of the month, in addition to those in Tasmania who have already lost their jobs because the Musselroe wind farm is stalled. It is directly attributable to a failure of federal government policy. You cannot look at it any other way.

To conclude, as far as the Greens are concerned with this inquiry, we would like to see the proposal that we have on the table as a way forward considered. The opportunity that we are offering to broker a compromise position to get a carbon price in Australia as soon as possible should be taken up because there is no prospect of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme being passed in the Senate. That has been obvious time and time again. I do not think another inquiry is going to change what people think, because nothing is changing in terms of the fundamental architecture of the scheme as was proposed by the government in the first instance and nothing is going to change on the targets or the way that the compensation provisions are constructed. There is no way that the Greens are going to support a piece of legislation which locks us into low targets and a failure on the science and locks us into not transforming the Australian economy but keeping the old coal sector, the fossil fuel sector, longer than is necessary and actually preventing the transformation that we desperately need. So, as soon as the legislation comes back, we will not be supporting it for all the reasons we have articulated time and time again. We do not think there is a need for another inquiry, because we think the ground has been covered many, many times.

12:16 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no doubt that we are debating a very serious issue. It is the big new tax on everything: the so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which deals with $114 billion being churned. It is a big issue in anybody’s language. Secondly, it is clearly within the province of the Commonwealth parliament. It is something which we are responsible for dealing with. So I say to those senators, like Senator Xenophon and the Greens, who do not seem to be interested in another Senate inquiry: that is fine, there is no compulsion—you do not have to go—but do not deny those of us who actually want to engage in the detail of this matter the opportunity to further inquire into and deal with the issues that have arisen since the last inquiry. It is dissemblance at its worst, with respect to both Senator Xenophon and the Greens, to assert that this area has been dealt with time and time again. Certain aspects have been dealt with previously, but I will remind honourable senators and read into the record the terms of reference. What we want to know about is:

... the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen in December 2009 ...

Has that ever been inquired into? Absolutely not. It is a completely new term of reference. Why is it that the Greens in particular, and Labor as well, do not want to know about the failure of Copenhagen? We also want to inquire into:

... the current state of progress of other countries in implementing emissions and abatement measures to meet non-binding emissions reduction targets ...

Has that been inquired into? Absolutely not. So, with respect to Senator Xenophon, the Greens and the Labor Party, saying these things have previously been inquired into is just wrong. How you can assert it so blandly is beyond me. These things have not been inquired into. There is another clause:

... the status of, and likely prospects for, the United States of America’s emissions trading legislation.

Since the last inquiry, this issue has moved a long way, especially on the international scene. The importance of that is—and again I say this with respect to Senator Xenophon, the Greens and Labor—sure, we have inquired into the architecture of the scheme, but there have been underpinnings in relation to the scheme which have been relied upon. There were underpinnings such as: we would be part and parcel of the global action which would come out of Copenhagen. That was one of the fundamental underpinnings. We now know that Copenhagen has been a complete failure, yet Labor are desperate to push it along despite the fact that one of the fundamental underpinnings has been taken away. Sure, the architecture remains the same, but you are now building a house—if I can extend the analogy—in a completely and utterly different environment. Therefore, if that is the case, you might have to address the architecture as well when you know that the underpinnings are so substantially different. That is why we, as an Australian community, should be informed as to whether the United States are going to go ahead.

I recall Senator Wong time and time again telling us that she had the support of the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and that the United States were moving down the track. She could no longer say that in the Senate today. That is the reality. She knows that the United States are running a hundred miles an hour from an emissions trading scheme and she knows that those business groups that she used to quote no longer support the government’s emissions trading scheme. The underpinnings have changed. The question then is: why have those organisations changed their position? Why has the United States changed its position? Are those matters worthy of inquiry? Of course they are.

We are dealing with a fundamental change to the Australian economy—$114 billion worth. Regarding the scheme, the Prime Minister cannot tell the Australian people how much it is going to impact on a litre of milk or a loaf of bread. We do know it will impact; we just do not know how much. You know what? I reckon the average Australian is interested in knowing how much it is going to impact on a litre of milk, especially in circumstances where other people around the world will not be having a similar emissions trading scheme to our own.

This is a fundamental change that is being proposed by Labor. It used to be dressed up as the greatest moral challenge of our time. Now Labor has gone very quiet on it. It did not even put it on top of the Senate agenda for consideration when we resumed. The Prime Minister no longer talks about it, but somehow it is still allegedly the greatest moral challenge of our time. That is how it was uber hyped, overhyped, by the Prime Minister. It was so very important, yet now Labor no longer wants to have an inquiry. I can understand why because it is a dog of a scheme. But why Senator Xenophon and the Greens would not want an inquiry does beggar belief. If they are not interested, fine; no compulsion, don’t come along. But some of us are genuinely interested in what has happened to the underpinnings of this scheme.

Indeed, another underpinning of this scheme was Australia’s projected population by the year 2050. In the 12 months since the legislation was first introduced, that figure has now changed by about two million or three million people. When you have got a population of, what, 21 million or 22 million people, such a change in the population projection is a 10 per cent change in one of the underpinnings, and that within 12 months. The questions have to be asked: how were the underpinnings of this scheme obtained; who was responsible; and how come these underpinnings are now being pulled out or collapsing and no longer sustainable? Sure, the architecture might still be the same, as Senator Xenophon and Senator Milne told us. But a house is not only the architecture that you see, it is also the foundations—and the foundations are being pulled out, time and time again, in this scheme. It is vitally important that we see what happens in that regard.

I do not know why I bother because I trust not many people believe what Senator Milne and the Greens assert in this place, but she asserted that a deal was done with the coalition. No deal was done with the coalition other than to explore opportunities and possible amendments, but the coalition did not sign off on those amendments. Even if we would have, which of course is incorrect, the opportunity for community organisations and experts to put on the public record their views of the changes that are now in this legislation would have been of great benefit, I would have thought, for everybody.

In relation to the amendment that Senator Fielding has moved, in general terms it is similar to that which we have in our motion. I say to Senator Fielding: unfortunately we cannot support it, for reasons that I have explained privately but also put on the public record. Our wording is that the committee should ‘seek’ evidence from, amongst others, the Productivity Commission; Senator Fielding says the committee ‘ must invite’. I am not sure that there is much difference, but we as a Senate cannot direct the Productivity Commission and therefore we cannot support Senator Fielding’s amendment, albeit that overwhelmingly it is moving in the same direction as we have moved for this inquiry.

To sum up: to assert that this inquiry is the same as those gone by is just false because subclauses (b), (c), (d) and (e) of our motion deal with that which has occurred since the last inquiries, like the failure of Copenhagen. I do not know how the Greens do it—straight-faced, they get up and say, ‘We’ve inquired into all these things previously.’ Well, I would like the Greens to tell us: when did the Senate inquire into ‘the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen in December 2009’? We never have. Yet she stands here, hand on heart, and asserts that we have. It is just false.

I must say one of these days I might think of transforming into a Green. You would not have to worry about truth. You would not have to worry about robustness. You would not have to worry about intellectual rigour in your contributions here. Just make the assertion and then, when somebody pings you on it, just move on to the next assertion. But enough of that.

The point has been made that there are new matters in this inquiry. This inquiry would not delay the legislation because under the Senate’s own rules—and, might I add, a very good point made yesterday by Senator Fielding—this legislation cannot be debated until May. So we now have a window of opportunity of two months plus to look at this. It will not delay the legislation in any way, shape or form by having such an inquiry, yet we are being told we should not have one. I do not understand that. It will not delay. It will be looking at new matters.

I see Senator Xenophon coming into the chamber—my good friend. I just remind him, in the closing stages of this debate, with a view that he might change his mind, that the Senate has never inquired into the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen. We have never done that. Have we inquired into ‘the current state of progress of other countries in implementing emissions and abatement measures to meet non-binding emissions reduction targets’? No, we have not. Have we looked at ‘the status of’—and that is the current status—‘and likely prospects for, the United States of America’s emissions trading legislation’? No, we have not. These are all new areas, all worthy of investigation, and as a result I ask all honourable senators to support the proposal.

Photo of Annette HurleyAnnette Hurley (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the amendment moved by Senator Fielding be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question put:

That the motion (Senator Abetz’s) be agreed to.